Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Populism and the People - Being Liberal Isn't Enough

By Steve Hynd


In April 1888, Kier Hardie stood for election to the British parliament as an independent labour candidate, after realising that the Liberal Party was happy to call for the votes of working people as its natural due but would never enact more than a tiny proportion of a labour agenda that was at odds with its own essentially rich-elite nature. he lost that election, but it began a process that saw Hardie returned to parliament as the first MP from an independent labour party in 1892 - a process that saw the rise of a Labour Party that by 1924 became the party of government for the first time. That Labour Party - despite it's latter-day co-opting by the Whigs again, in the Americanised form of the Blairites - is singularly responsible for the UK's policies of women's suffrage, of worker's rights, of universal healthcare, universal education and a social safety net for those who struggle. It's policies have been copied, in some form or other, the world over.

Despite any regretable tendency to proclaim "not invented here", the story of the rise of the Labour Party in Britain has important lessons for modern America. While not exact, the analogy is none the less clear: a nation where rule is divided between competing elements of the rich elite - one that pretends to care about the interests of the common people and one that makes no such pretense - with each taking their turn to steer the country, always toward greater power and enrichment for the already rich and powerful, the only difference being the degree of audacity with which that policy is pursued. Those lessons are simple: it takes a long time to build an effective labor movement, and it does that movement no good to keep voting for liberal Whigs in the hope that those members of the rich elite will enact legislation to satisfy any meaningful proportion of the working class's needs. But as Saul Alinsky once said, "Power goes to two poles -- to those who've got the money and those who've got the people."

There is no demographic reason why a party of the common people, for the common people, should not be the majority party in the United States. Indeed, there are reasons to believe such a party, responsive to a popular and democratic socialist agenda, could be the natural majority party. The party could not be named the Labor Party - thank McCarthy and his kneejerk legacy - but a Populist Party could, with a couple of decades of organising, see majorities on the Hill and a President in the Oval Office.

It's important to realise that the current electorate is not the same as the potential electorate. By American standards the turnout for the 2004 Presidential election was high, for example - yet by the standards of other Western democracies it was woefully low. Chris Bowers at MyDD researched who didn't turn out to vote and came up with some interesting findings. In 2004, for example, the national median income was $35,100 p.a. yet the median income of the electorate was $55,300 - a difference of 57.5%.

In other words, it is mostly the poorest segment of society who don't vote. Consider that although a presidential election winner might gain 52% of the electorate, he'd still only win 34% of all the possible votes. There is a huge potential constituency out there, between 25% and 30% of the potential electorate, who simply don't vote - and they don't vote simply because neither major party have policies that address their concerns! A party that can mobilise that unheard constituency and take even 10% from the current big two -  from the Ron Paul populists of the Right and the "DFH's" of the Dem base - wins the first national election in which it has built up sufficient organisation to do that mobilization on a nationwide basis.

The Democrat Party, well aware that it would suffer most in losing votes to such a Populist movement, perenially indulges in fearmongering of the "most important election EVAH!" kind, ignoring that Republicans have ruled the roost for at least half of the last century and haven't managed to destroy the United States yet. And if that doesn't work, it indulges in circular arguments - essentially that since a true broadbased party of the poor and working class doesn't exist it cannot get elected and since it cannot get elected it should not exist. Meanwhile, many Democrat supporters are ironically blind to the way in which they've already settled the fact that they can be bought and sold by corporate interests and are only haggling over the price. People, this is not about "nuance". This about political prostitution and having had enough of it.

Lots of people are talking about a Lincoln quote today.

�Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.�

And suggesting that this might be the last "true" Labor Day. I'd like to offer a different Lincoln quote:

"If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool."

"All that harms labor is treason to America."

And suggest that it's long past time for America to restore Labor Day to its international date - May first - while restoring Labor and the common people to where they should be, at the center of politics.


  1. Labor is real. Capital is an intellectual construct. The sad difference is that labor, whether making pyramids or ice sculptures vanishes the moment the results are complete, whereas capital, like everything conceptual, has a kind of immorality. And since labor is the mother of capital, the belief that capital is more important than labor is one of mankind's most pernicious deceptions. Few workers appreciate the importance of what they contribute to the formation of capital. Somehow the role of workers as the core of real economic activity must once again become the main reason that anyone works at any job.
    The following popped up in today's messages..."Is Capitalism Doomed?" by N Roubini is now the most read and most commented piece on our site. Dr. Doom doesn't actually think capitalism is "doomed" any more than a historian believes that history can be reversed. But he says, like a preacher, we need to mend out ways.
    To enable market-oriented economies to operate as they should and can, we need to return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods. That means moving away from both the Anglo-Saxon model of laissez-faire and voodoo economics and the continental European model of deficit-driven welfare states. Both are broken.
    The right balance today requires creating jobs partly through additional fiscal stimulus aimed at productive infrastructure investment. It also requires more progressive taxation; more short-term fiscal stimulus with medium- and long-term fiscal discipline; lender-of-last-resort support by monetary authorities to prevent ruinous runs on banks; reduction of the debt burden for insolvent households and other distressed economic agents; and stricter supervision and regulation of a financial system run amok; breaking up too-big-to-fail banks and oligopolistic trusts.
    Over time, advanced economies will need to invest in human capital, skills and social safety nets to increase productivity and enable workers to compete, be flexible and thrive in a globalized economy. The alternative is � like in the 1930s - unending stagnation, depression, currency and trade wars, capital controls, financial crisis, sovereign insolvencies, and massive social and political instability.

    Notice how he uses the term human capital to distinguish between that kind of assets and financial assets.

  2. FYI, that second quote is apocryphal. I haven't been able to find any evidence that Lincoln ever really said that.
    On your main point, I don't think it is valid to focus purely on electoralism and ignore the fact that the period in which Labor reforms were won was one of far greater union militancy than exists today.
    As Rudolf Rocker wrote in his book Anarcho-Syndicalism:

    Political rights do not originate in parliaments, they are, rather, forced upon parliaments from without.
    Political rights do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace. Where this is not the case, there is no help in any parlia�mentary Opposition or any Platonic appeals to the constitution. One compels respect from others when he knows how to defend his dignity as a human being. This is not only true in private life, it has always been the same in political life as well.

    I'm not trying to promote anarchist dogma, here. I don't think we can ignore the political. But focusing purely on organizational forms like a party isn't the answer. Whether you are fighting for a voice within the Democratic Party or fighting to build a new party, the results will be the same and will not bring meaningful change if it is in the absence of a broad-based grassroots movement that is willing to engage in militant direct action rather than just electing politicians.
    And I am not speaking of the sort of impotent protest politics and phony "civil disobedience" media spectacles popular among radical leftists today. I mean we need a movement that knows how to exert real power. The left today does not remember what that means. Protest and "civil disobedience" is all about making impotent appeals to those in power, and trying to express the "voice of the people". That is a pointless exercise that means nothing other than supporting the careers and lifestyles of professional activists. The power of the left has atrophied because the left professionalized and because people came to trust that the hard won gains of the past had been institutionalized, enshrined in laws, and were now safe. People on the left have been drugged into believing in the illusion of democracy. But democracy only exists when people are prepared to mobilize and fight to defend their dignity and compel respect from others. When people demobilize and trust in institutions of government to protect their rights, they simply abdicate social power to those with the wealth to buy power. And that is where we are today.